The recent run by the Edmonton Oilers has many in the organization smiling.
Winners of five straight and 10 of their last 12, the Oilers have shot up the standings and currently sit second in the North Division and third overall in the NHL.
One of the smiling faces — and by far one of the most recognizable on the team — is that of Jesse Puljujarvi, who just over a year ago most thought would never play another game for the Oilers.
At the end of 2018-19, the No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft was looking for a fresh start and requested a trade out of Edmonton. Puljujarvi's first tenure in Edmonton saw him struggle to find a place in the lineup, either in the top-six or among the team's depth forwards. There was serious concern with his development, as he was constantly shuttled between Edmonton and AHL Bakersfield.
It was a disappointing year all around for the talented Finn, who ended his injury-shortened season with four goals and nine points in 46 games before undergoing surgery on both hips. It was a sizeable step back after a promising 2017-18 campaign that saw him put up a career-high 12 goals in 65 games.
But that's all a distant memory. The Oilers moved on from the Peter Chiarelli regime, and the tandem of general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett welcomed the chance to bring him back into the fold.
The 22-year-old has impressed many in his second tenure in Edmonton.
Although he didn’t get the fresh start he was looking for in the NHL, Puljujarvi’s game benefited from the time he spent in the Finnish Liiga. He led Karpat in scoring with 53 points in 56 games in 2019-20, frequently flashing his ability to score either driving down the right wing or getting to the right spots in front of the net. He also started his 2020-21 season in Finland, putting up 12 point in 16 games before returning to Edmonton after the NHL finalized plans for a 56-game season beginning in January.
Puljujarvi started the year as a depth winger, but by mid-January he was promoted to the top line alongside Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, replacing Zack Kassian on the right side.
He not only brought a lot more speed to the top line, he also has the fourth most shots among Oilers forwards with 47 and sits behind only McDavid with 32 high-danger chances.
It may have taken Puljujarvi until his 12th game to get his first goal of the season, but he showed in the Oilers' 4-2 win over Ottawa that night what the new and improved version of himself can do when he gets to the net. The work ethic he displayed that game brought nothing but praise from his new bench boss.
“He’s come in and he’s been seamless, he’s a big guy and he likes to have fun,” said Tippett.
The offensive production he displayed in Finland has started to become a more frequent sighting in Edmonton, as he’s scored six times in his last 10 games to give him nine points in 21 games on the season. He's also earned time on the second power-play unit.
One thing that’s remained the same about Puljujarvi? His ability to endear himself to the fans.
In 2018, he famously hitched a ride home from practice with a fan and even showed up at an outdoor rink to skate with kids. He’s produced even more viral moments this season, whether it was his reaction to his coach chewing out a ref, or opening up to the media about his personal life.
At 22, he’s one of the youngest players on the Oilers and has still yet to play a full season in the NHL. It may not have been the fresh start he initially envisioned, but he's made the most of the opportunity and has plenty of room to grow with a franchise that’s welcomed him back with open arms.
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